For his most recent performance this October, artist and activist Dread Scott attempted to walk toward a high-pressure water jet gushing out of a fire hose, but was repeatedly knocked down and battered. This powerful piece of performance art is as familiar as it is hard to watch: Scott’s work, titled “On the Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Slavery and Genocide” recontextualizes the Civil Rights Movement to cause viewers to connect police brutality in Birmingham, Ala., 1963 to police brutality in Ferguson, Mo., 2014.
At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 11, Scott will deliver a lecture in Rocky about the link between revolutionary art and social issues, to create dialogue on Vassar’s campus.
His artistic statement reveals his innovative style: “Dread Scott makes revolutionary art to propel history forward.” As a student at the Art Institute of Chicago, Scott entered the consciousness of the American public with his installation, “What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?” The installation sparked controversy that took over the public conversation, causing President George H. W. Bush, to denounce Scott’s work as “disgraceful.” “I don’t approve of it at all,” President Bush said on the floor of Congress before passing a piece of legislation to “protect the flag.” Scott’s work has shown to possess the power to spark reactions grounded in real-life actions.
Scott, whose name is both a nod to Dred Scott and to the emotion of dread, then went on to complete an independent study at The Whitney Museum of American Art in 1993. He has since exhibited works at The Whitney Museum of American Art, MoMA PS1, the Contemporary Art Museum Houston, the Pori Art Museum in Pori, Finland and in many non-traditional spaces.
His pieces take form in a variety of media: In addition to his performance art, Scott works in painting, photography, prints, video and installation.
Scott will be making a campus visit through Un-Framed, a new organization, spearheaded by Matthew McCardwell ’17 and Sophie Asakura ’16, which seeks to bring artists working in socially-conscious or politically-oriented spaces to help foster regular campus dialogues regarding contemporary issues.
“Un-Framed seeks to bring public art and performance art to campus and take art off the walls of traditional spaces, like galleries or museums, and moving it out into the Vassar community,” said McCardwell. “A lot of the artists we are bringing are doing work to combat issues in their communities. [Bringing these artists to campus] takes discourse out of the town hall atmosphere and takes them on visually. We will then try and work better as a community, hopefully, by just seeing another artist or community’s perspective.”
Un-Framed finds value in having Scott come to Vassar’s campus in particular. McCardwell said, “By bringing him here, he is able to help us reframe dialogues we need to be having, like how to make sure everyone here has the space on campus, nobody is taking up space or marginalizing people further, to teach people not to commit microaggressions or to make people feel like they don’t belong here. So that’s one of the things we are hoping to gain from this–it’s just another way to create a dialogue.”
Scott’s work goes beyond creating dialogue; he questions society and invites the viewer to join his constant questioning and reexamining of society. His work also seeks to bring “forgotten” or “suppressed” histories or movements back into the contemporary conversation.
“This is a world where a tiny handful of people controls the great wealth and knowledge humanity as a whole has created,” Scott states on his website. “It is a world of profound polarization, exploitation and suffering and billions are excluded from intellectual development and full participation in society. It does not have to be this way and my art is part of forging a radically different world. The work illuminates the misery that this society creates for so many people and it often encourages the viewer to envision how the world could be.”
Scott’s goal speaks to many Vassar students’ desires. Asakura said, “Matthew and I thought it was really important to start Un-Framed and bring Dread Scott to campus because we see the need and desire for broader social dialogue.”
He continued, “The arts, and especially performance art, are an active and important venue for tackling issues of deep personal importance and social and political relevance. We think Dread will add insight, energy and nuance to ongoing conversations on campus.”